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19

Jul
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Maxine Listens by Dr. Lynda Jones Mubarak

On 19, Jul 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Maxine Listens written by Dr. Lynda Jones Mubarak, illustrated by Adua Hernandez

From Goodreads: Maxine Hill continues her investigative techniques to solve mysteries and puzzles while practicing community service and human compassion at school and in her community. A new medical diagnosis sends Maxine on a journey to find answers to a very personal concern. What will Max discover this time? Will she be successful? Follow young, Detective Maxine Hill as she seeks to unravel and address another important challenge. 

Maxine Hill is back and she’s ready to tackle the latest mystery, this time in her own family. Her dad has been asking her to repeat herself a lot lately and while on a trip to get new glasses her mom breaks the news that a health issue is causing hearing loss. Maxine makes it her mission to understand the deaf/hard of hearing community better in order to understand what is happening to her dad.

In order to understand the hearing loss Maxine decides to research online and to befriend the three hearing impaired children in her grade at school. The research is an opportunity for her to share what she discovers with the reader and her classmates in the form of an oral presentation. The kids she befriends humanize hearing loss and share different stories and experiences with the condition.

While the relationships she starts to build could come off as transactional or disingenuous on Maxine’s part she bears in mind something her mother has said when she first approaches them “if you want to learn the truth about a person, take some time to learn the truth about how they live, work, and play”. Chastising herself for not really noticing them before or making an attempt to get to know them, she ends up becoming friends with them and the three kids get to share their stories and their dreams for their futures, which makes them less one-dimensional or props exclusively for Maxine. (Bearing in mind this isn’t a novel, more like a beginning chapter book, the space for developing any character is limited.) They are also portrayed as people and not people that need saving by or validation from Maxine. She doesn’t bring them into the cool group and, while she uses what she has learned from them in her report, the report is about how to be inclusive and her own family’s experience, rather than speaking for the other kids.

Also, if you have a student, patron, or kiddo who is needing glasses, Maxine notices her eyesight worsening and over the course of the book gets a new prescription for her glasses. It’s great to see a story that has a glasses-wearing kid taking the change in vision seriously and in stride.

If I had one suggestion about the book it’s the form factor/format! Both Maxine books would make excellent beginning chapter books. Breaking the text up into short chapters (not removing any content, simply breaking it out) and reducing the trim size of the book to match chapter books would make this book an easy peasy sell to kids and librarians alike. Hernandez’s illustrations have a sophisticated, clean feel to them that make them perfect for helping break up and support the text without making kids feel like they’re reading a “baby book”. Maxine is charmingly rendered and will appeal to the chapter book audience in the same way Clementine or Judy Moody does.

If you want smart, interesting female characters on your shelves (you do, right?) then be sure to get both Maxine books. Another winner from Dr. Mubarak.

To be clear, I am not a visually impaired or hearing impaired person. Which of course means this is my read of the book which might very well be incomplete or downright wrong. I would love to hear what people in those communities have to say.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher, Melanin Origins, in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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05

Jul
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: The Royal Alphabets by Maame Serwaa

On 05, Jul 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

The Royal Alphabets: A Collection of African Empires in World History written by by Maame Serwaa, illustrated by Fleance Forkuo

From Goodreads: Take a trip back to the riches of African history and brace yourself as this book utilizes the alphabets to educate readers on pre-colonial Africa. The Royal Alphabets is a unique and positive representation of Africa and its many cultures dating back thousands of years and into present time. In this captivating book, readers will learn of Royal figures throughout the continent as well as gain understanding of the importance of African history as it relates to the rest of the world. This page turner is sure to leave readers enlightened and curious for more.

I consider myself lucky. In my sophomore year of high school we studied “World Cultures” in our history class. This started with the three famous empires of West Africa (Mali, Ghana, and Songhai). It then continued into China and only China. The previous year was Ancient History- Egypt, Greece, and Rome- and while you might think Egypt opened up the ability to look at African and Middle Eastern cultures, you would be wrong. It was very whitewashed. The following years focused on U.S. history and European history, the later of which conveniently started after 1300 AD and after much contact with non-white empires had occurred. I think it’s telling that the single year we studied “the World” was actually a very small snapshot of the diversity of peoples and cultures that have lived on this planet across time (but it is not a coincidence).

In college I took anthropology and history classes that focused on West Africa, the Southern Pacific islands, and Indonesia. But once again, a lot of it was both contemporary and seen through the lens of colonization. I am forever grateful I had any and all those classes despite their flaws because they planted the seeds that the World is not White by default nor a place where White people were the only ones to create history or civilization.

And yet, knowing this, I am still stymied as a parent trying to find ways to teach my kids about history that doesn’t involve the slave trade or Black folks being enslaved. (As a White parent I am talking about those things with my kids, but just as Black parents want their children to know about the rich history of Black and African people, I do too, although maybe not for the same reasons.)

All of this is a long, roundabout way of getting to the book The Royal Alphabets which features twenty six kings, queens, armies and empires of African civilizations. This is another important book from Melanin Origins and author Maame Serwaa. Each letter entry has tiny tidbits of information about the historical figure, figures, or empire. In some ways I wish there was more, but I think as with many of Melanin Origins books, they aren’t complete history lessons. Just good introductions that encourage the reader to follow their curiosity to research and learn more. The book brings to mind From Ashanti to Zulu, which is quite lovely, but also incredibly boring and isn’t without its own issues of representation. I think Royal Alphabets strikes the perfect balance between giving information and keeping it moving. My own daughter was really excited about the Dohemian Female Army because she made the connection to the Dora Milaje from Black Panther.

I know I say this all the time, but here is another book that should be on your shelves. Black parents can use this as a confidence builder around culture and Micah and Myra, the two narrators, say as much in their introduction. Black and African people have accomplished so much through the ages, but traditional education has completely erased their contributions or reduced them to slavery and the Civil Rights Era and maybe peanut butter. Other students of color and White students will also be better off knowing that it wasn’t only White, Christian, cisgender, heterosexual men who accomplished things and are worthy of history books.

I think all types of libraries can find a place for this in their collections. Schools should, of course, be committed to giving students access to a robust history curriculum and resources. Public libraries I am sure have families of all stripes that would like to share these people and accomplishments with their children. Home libraries, daycares, classrooms all have the same commitments and audiences, too.

I have one criticism of the book, the entry on Sundiata Keita. He was physically disabled and the entry on him uses the word “crippled”, which is a word that can be hurtful in the disabled community as it has been used as a slur. It also says he “overcame” his disability. I think it might be more accurate and less ableist to say he was both physically disabled and a successful, just, strong king. Overcoming implies that it was something that was deficient in him, which considering his power, fame, and success, he was clearly not at a deficit. Despite this, the rest of the book is strong and necessary. Maybe subsequent editions of the book can change the language a bit?

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher, Melanin Origins, in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

  • On Amazon: paperback, hardback, and ebook.
  • On IndieBound: paperback and hardback.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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21

Jun
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Taylor’s STEM Adventures Texas by Dr. Mary Payton

On 21, Jun 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Taylor’s STEM Adventures Texas written by Dr. Mary Payton, illustrated by Jorge Mansilla

From Goodreads: Taylor’s STEM Adventures Texas is the second book in a series of stories about the young son of two military members from STEM career fields. As his family moves to various duty locations Taylor guides you through his adventures in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at each base. Taylor gives military children the insight into the STEM adventures and activities that await them in their next military move.

I am so excited that Taylor is back for his next adventure in STEM! You can go back and read my review of the first book where Taylor explores Hawaii with a STEM lens here. In the newest installment, Taylor and his parents have moved to Texas and he’s here to share about all the science based learning he’s doing in the new place.

I mentioned this last time, but was reminded how much I love that these books feature a military family. So many books that include military families are specifically about being a military family. This one is not and it’s so important for kids with parents in the military to see themselves doing regular things (like learning about science and visiting touristy spots). It’s equally important for kids who don’t have family in the military to see that military kids aren’t that different.

Texas families will be happy to see their home state being shown as more than cattle ranches, White cowboys in big hats, and barbecue. I’m a California girl born and raised and I found it a relief to see that there’s more to Texas than some antiquated (and White) history. I was personally really interested in the caves and caverns the book talked about. I love caves and cave-dwelling creatures, especially bats.

I think this time around Dr. Payton has continued to provide just enough information to give an overview and pique interest. But I think the book has leveled up in the best possible way. It’s longer this time around and a larger format (there was absolutely nothing wrong with that last time, for the record) making it appeal to a slightly older crowd. It aged up with my own daughter who was excited about Taylor’s trip to the Johnson Space Center.

There is a lot here making this another great addition to collections designed to grab kids interest and encourage them to explore further. Taylor explores architecture, bats, caves, dinosaurs, and NASA. School libraries should definitely have both of the Taylor books on their shelves and anyone with science oriented kids should too.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher, Melanin Origins, in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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14

Jun
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Kiddo Lingo! by Tiffany K. Daniels

On 14, Jun 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Kiddo Lingo!: Early Childhood Development Book Series written by Tiffany K. Daniels, illustrated by Jorge Mansilla and Ridho Mendari

From Goodreads: Tiffany K. Daniels, Speech-Language Pathologist embarks on a creative series that inspires and encourages children, in particular those with special needs to excel in their developmental skills. With Kiddo Lingo, the goal is to provide exposure to daily activities that children of all diverse cultures experience, so we can better understand the common goal that we all share: wanting the best for our children .

There are a lot of concept books out there intended to work with kids on early school-readiness skills like ABCs, 123s and colors. Most of them are pretty run-of-the-mill and a lot are downright boring. Then there are a newer crop of hip concept books that seem made for the entertainment of the parent/educator rather than the actual child (creepy hipster ABC book, I’m looking at you).

Thankfully Melanin Origins does not seem to be falling into these traps with the concept books they have published (check out John Ensley II’s My ABCs for a beautiful and culturally relevant concept book). Kiddo Lingo! is not quite your traditional concept book, as it doesn’t focus on ABCs or 123s. It takes on more complex school-readiness concepts like paying attention to detail, following directions, actively listening, and answering questions.

The book is broken into short sections with illustrated short narratives followed (or sometimes preceded) by instructions for an adult . This means the book is designed to be read together and talked about/interacted with. Nothing in it is difficult and nothing requires more than a caring adult and a child. This would make it a great book to take along to restaurants where young kids need to be wrangled and entertained. The games, such as a version of Simon Says and look-and-find pictures, can be done sitting down quietly or standing up and moving around. The length of the shorts are perfect for short attention spans (hello paying attention to realistic, age-appropriate expectations!) and allow the book to be picked up and put down without losing the thread between readings.

Not only does it have activities to do together, it features a diverse cast of characters including a child pictured in a wheelchair. We need more visual diversity like this because representation matters (I can’t say this enough). Thank you Jorge Mansilla and Ridho Mendari for adding those details in and keep up the good work to Melanin Origins for ensuring that representation is being published in books for kids. The illustrations are bright and inviting with big-eyed, charming kiddos.

This is the perfect book for a shared reading experience. Picture books are designed with that in mind, but not all of them hit the mark in the way this one does. Highly recommended for preschools, daycares, and home libraries. Kiddo Lingo! lives up to its subtitle “Early Child Development Book Series”. These are great skills for adults to work with kids on and they are developmentally appropriate for young kids (the 3-5 set). Grab a couple copies and give them out at toddler birthday parties and tuck them in the diaper bag for restaurant and doctor appointment outings.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher, Melanin Origins, in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

  • On Amazon: paperback, hardback, and ebook.
  • On IndieBound: paperback and hardback.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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07

Jun
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Lessons Learned Along the Journey by Louie T. McClain II

On 07, Jun 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Lessons Learned Along the Journey written by Louie T. McClain II

From Goodreads: Meet Tia Patterson, the intelligent, humorous, and brave descendant of the first and only African American owned car manufacturing company: C.R. Patterson & Sons. Journey with Tia as she provides insight on being successful and courteous while navigating the wiles of life.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher, Melanin Origins, in exchange for an honest review.

This is a great book to add to social-emotional curriculums. McClain has used an interesting character to take you through lessons for being a decent human being in this life. Tia Patterson uses driving metaphors to give readers ten pieces of solid advice. Patterson is the descendant of Frederick Douglas Patterson, owner of the first and only African American car manufacturing company. I appreciated the update of using Tia, a woman, to break the stereotype of men and boys being the only ones who like and understand cars.

As someone who moves a fair amount in activist circles where we stress “impact over intent”, I really appreciated how all the advice took into account how our personal choices can have an impact on those around us or create ripples that impact people further out from us. This is why the driving metaphors work so well here. This is a hard lesson to learn, especially for kids who are naturally self centered (I don’t mean that in a negative way) and need us to both explicitly teach them to look outside themselves and model that behavior.

Some of the driving scenarios that set the stage for the lessons might be a little complex for younger audiences, but then again so are the lessons. Teachers who use picture books in upper elementary and even middle school would be wise to incorporate this text. (You do use picture books with older kids, right?)

I’m hoping Melanin Origins and Louie McClain write a book for young readers about Frederick Douglas Patterson and his car company. Maybe an entry in the next Snippet in the Life series? I want to know more and I suspect readers of Lessons Learned will too.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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24

May
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: How Mamas Love Their Babies by Juniper Fitzgerald

On 24, May 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

How Mamas Love Their BabiesHow Mamas Love Their Babies written by Juniper Fitzgerald, illustrated by Elise Peterson

From Goodreads: Illustrating different ways that mothers provide for their children—including dancing at a strip club—this children’s book is the first to depict a sex-worker parent. By introducing and normalizing the idea of bodily labor, it provides an expanded notion of working mothers overall, and challenges the idea that only some types of work result in good or appropriate parenting.

I already hear the arguments about not having this book on the kids shelves in libraries. And they’re all nonsense. Parents who work to provide for their kids deserve to be celebrated no matter how they do that. If you’re uncomfortable reading about a mother who dances to put food on the table and care for their children, you should look long and hard at your biases.

I loved the book because it celebrates mothers who work and mothers who stay home, and the myriad things mothers do to care for their children. There are pilots, farmers, house cleaners, artists, office workers, and dancers. Parents provide for their kids in the ways that they can and sex work is legitimate work. Entertainment is legitimate work. The book doesn’t get graphic about what a mother who dances all night might be doing or not doing making it an age-appropriate representation of the variety of jobs moms hold to put food on the table, shoes on their kids’ feet, and a roof over their heads.

It’s hard work being a parent (and a mom)* and I love that this book recognizes that and explains that it is because of this hard work that moms “helps their babies grow” and “helps their babies thrive”. There are plenty of books out there that present this syrupy, saccharine picture of motherhood. Books that glorify the self sacrificing that can come with motherhood. A picture that essentially upholds the white supremacy derivative patriarchy. I’m not saying some of those books haven’t hit me right in the feels, but they also feel kind of like they’re indoctrinating our boys to expect women to be nurturing and subservient and our girls to be those things. How Mamas Love Their Babies points out that being a mom is hard work and we do that hard work for the good of our children without making us seem like saints or like this is the only value we bring to the world.

I was also really drawn to this book for the illustrations. They’re this collage of vintage black and white photographs, many of which have been cut up and colored on, paper and that tomato soup colored texture you see in the background of the cover. I think the texture really ties it all together when it might feel a little all over the place. The photos are equal parts sweet and charming and real and, even better, they feature a variety of people- Black, brown, and White. I especially love the collages that incorporate women holding signs at protests/rallies. Signs that read “We need day care centers” and “Unfair to strippers”.

This is the book I want to be reading on Mother’s Day with my girls. And, you know what? It was. And I explained what a stripper was to my older daughter. And I personally felt validated by this book.

So, I know this book is going to be a hard sell in a lot of libraries. I know. Remember I quit my last job over a book about immigration and refugees. Sex workers are something that are even more taboo and stigmatized. That is also exactly why it needs to be on our shelves. Kids need books that celebrate mothers in this way and they need to see that all work mothers do is legitimate and good whether or not their moms dance all night in special shoes or go to the office from 9-5. If you work in a public library you won’t know what all your parents do for a living, so you may very well have sex workers with children in your population. Quite frankly the same is true in many school libraries too. To librarians in private school libraries, this is one of those times that you are going to have to stand up for representation. You can’t be fine with books that glorify settler colonialism, but not be okay with books that show the dignity of working parents regardless of their profession. Plus, how validating for those parents and children to finally see their families in a book.

*I’m a little torn using the term motherhood because I know not all mothers identify as female or as mothers, but the book has mother in the title, refers to mothers throughout the text, and uses pictures of people who present very female. I’m kind of going along with that…but I also recognize that might be leaving out other folks and I’m not quite sure how to incorporate that experience into a book that so specifically talks about mothers.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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10

May
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: A Mother’s Wish by W. D. Lax

On 10, May 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

A Mother’s Wish written by W. D. Lax, illustrated by Juan Hernandez Jr.

From Goodreads: What’s A Mother’s Wish?  Providence summed it up in 3 John 1:2 when the apostle stated, “I wish above all things that you prosper and be in good health, even as your soul prospers.” This book is for praying mothers who only desire the best for their children.

I was fully expecting a book that was geared more toward parents. So often I think books about parental wishes and love tug on publishers’ heartstrings but don’t resonate with kids. They wax a bit poetic and can even be sappy and that’s not, at least in my experience, what kids are looking for. I fully admit to having a couple of those in my own personal collection and there’s nothing wrong with them, but they also tend to end up as standard gift fare for birthday parties, baby showers, and holidays.

A Mother’s Wish, however, felt different to me. First, it feels less like a lecture and more like a gentle reminder of how mother’s feel about their children. It’s earnest without being over-the-top mushy. Second, the language. It’s a prayer. It feels hushed and reverent. Certainly the mentions of God make it feel religious, but many people believe in a higher power without tying a specific religion to it. I could see memorizing pieces of this or reading it each night before bed to remind your children how much you love them. I could see this then being a comfort when mom is not available for bedtime. Prayerful, soothing words that convey the love and hope a mother often feels. The language is specific to the mother-son bond, but it could be altered if you wanted to make it work for a family with daughters. Don’t be afraid to change language when you read aloud- I’ve been doing this with pronouns recently to make books less tied to the gender binary.

I also really want to mention the illustrations. They are these lovely water colors of people. They match each stanza of the prayer nicely and the mix of skin tones and hair colors makes the book accessible to a variety families. Going back to the mother-son specific language, the pictures show a lot of children, and while I assume because of the language in the book they are boys, there is nothing that makes them male. Kids, if dressed in t-shirts and shorts, often don’t look like one gender or another. So the illustrations wouldn’t hinder you if you wanted to change up the language.

With Mother’s Day coming up, this would make a lovely read aloud in the classroom (although be cautious around this and be sure you include books about families that don’t have mothers too!) or library if you have religious audiences. It would be a beautiful addition to home collections and to library displays featuring families and mothers. If you have titles like On the Night You Were Born or I Wish You More, add this one as well.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher, Melanin Origins, in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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19

Apr
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Maggie and the Sprinkle Tree by John Bray

On 19, Apr 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Maggie and the Sprinkle Tree Maggie and the Sprinkle Treewritten by John Bray, illustrated by Christian Jackson

From the publisher: Maggie is a busy girl with an active curiosity. But when her imagination swirls everything together, things can get pretty interesting. In this magical story, follow Maggie as she adventures out well past her bedtime and learns how delicious her adventures can be.  

I was really struck by this story because it really sounds like Maggie could be my own daughter. She doesn’t like wearing socks, she is creative and likes to make things, she’s 7 3/4 years old, and taller than average. We were in from page one.

The story itself is silly and lively and just fun. The original Kickstarter campaign ran on the idea that they wanted to create a children’s book that wasn’t moralizing and preachy. I think there is a place for books that have meaning with a capital “M”, but there is is equally a place for fun books like this. I found this to be an ode to kids who love to experiment with household things and what I imagine they wish their experiments would create. It’s wish fulfillment and joy and sometimes we need those books. As educators we want to be sure we’re showing kids that books don’t have to be read just for information or for learning (although we often learn when we least expect it and are having fun), but that reading can be a pleasure. Maggie is a pleasure to read and dream with.

For a self published book, Maggie is pretty swish. It’s a large picture book, in hardcover with a dustjacket. I personally take dustjackets off, but I know they help in libraries to keep books just a hair cleaner and less scuffed up. That’s a big win for any libraries wanting to add this to their collection. The illustrator has also done art for both the jacket and the cover underneath, which is always fun when reading aloud. When this is the case I like to take a little peek under the jacket and then discuss what it might be telling us about the story to come.

I find the illustrations to be quite charming. They’re brightly colored and have lots of details that make it fun to look at while reading. I also love that many of the words in the story are incorporated into the pictures. Words made from sprinkles, words that point directions, words with arrows directing you to look around the page and pay attention. It makes the reading experience a lot more fun and interactive.

So, why am I reviewing this book? It doesn’t feature a diverse cast, just Maggie and the author is a white guy. I actually listen to a podcast John Bray hosts with another author (and blogger) and he pointed listeners to his newsletter. Every couple weeks I get a very brief (thank god, I’m tired of these long newsletters folks send out) newsletter with a little rambling and an even shorter piece of writing from John Bray. His stories are absolutely charming. They always make me smile. If this sounds interesting to you, definitely sign up.

I would highly recommend the book for libraries and classrooms with kids who like to experiment with slime (that’s a big thing right now, I guess?). I could see first and second graders being really into the story. If you have a makerspace with books the encourage creativity on the shelf, here’s one to add.

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05

Apr
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Dreaming Their Way Out by Leonard Williams

On 05, Apr 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Dreaming Their Way OutDreaming Their Way Out written by Leonard Williams, illustrated by Ohana Tozato

From Goodreads: Dreaming Their Way Out is about seven orphans who are desperately yearning for a family. One night when they dreamed about escaping the orphanage something indescribable happens. They do not realize that this discovery will change their lives forever.

Dreaming Their Way Out felt like pure wish fulfillment. Seven children are in a nun-operated orphanage, Roald Dahl style. They have to do all the hard work around the house and Sister Agatha is using them to earn money. Thankfully there does not appear to be any physical violence against the children and we don’t know why the children are orphaned (so no violent or tragic stories about their parents explicitly spelled out). One night, after another tedious and unpleasant day, in a shower of silver sparkles the kids meet a group of adults with wings. They discover that these people are their guardians and they take them off to a magical dream land where they eat good food, play with animals, and fly around magnificent natural places. Now that the children know they can spend time with the grown ups who care for and about them and can visit such a spectacular world they can’t wait to get through the days and dream their way out.

I certainly see this appealing to dreamy kids with their heads in the clouds. I’ll be honest, I was a day-dreamy kid growing up and had all kinds of wild fantasies that involved wild narratives like living in the woods, living on a farm, being able to talk to animals. And each of these stories I made up in my head did not involve parents and had limited adult roles in them. I could see a kid like myself eating this story up. I could even see it inspiring kids to write their own fantastical, hopeful, warm stories.

In terms of handing this to a kid in the foster system or a kid who is up for adoption or has been adopted, I’ll be honest, I don’t know. I’m not well versed enough in the issues of foster care and adoption to say how this story aligns with the treatment they receive, any stigma there might be against them, or if this kind of narrative is harmful. I would say proceed with caution. I only recently became aware of adoption kidlit as a genre and how problematic it can be. Is this different because it’s just so winsome? Again, I don’t feel qualified to say for sure. As with all books don’t treat it like something only a child with that type of story would enjoy. All kids can benefit for books with stories different than their own.

I do really appreciate that a story with such fantastical, magical adventures features seven kids of color. This is so rare and such a gap that needs filling in kidlit.

The book was a little on the long side which would make it better suited to reading with one or two kids at a time. But that also makes it a good fit for classroom and school libraries where kids check books out and have them to either take home or read over more than one sitting. The language isn’t terribly difficult which would make it accessible to a second or third grader.

The story ends on a high note, but also with a “to be continued…”. I’ll be curious to see what other magical adventures this group of friends finds in the years to come.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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29

Mar
2019

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: LaDonna Plays Hoops by Kimberly Gordon Biddle

On 29, Mar 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

LaDonna Plays HoopsLaDonna Plays Hoops written by Kimberly A. Gordon Biddle, illustrated by Heath Gray

From Goodreads: This is an inspirational and contemporary story of a young, African-American girl who goes to visit her grandma for a family reunion. While there, she tries to become the family hoops star. She wonders if she has the skill and the will. The story presents subtle, everyday events that teach life lessons.

Two years ago LaDonna played her cousin Tyrone in basketball and lost. That loss stung and now, two years older and wiser, she wants a rematch. Or at least she thinks she does. Her dad reminds her that whether or not she wins or loses, the practice will be good for her. LaDonna is by turns confident that she’ll beat Tyrone and nervous that she won’t be able to. She’s grown in the last two years and even gone to basketball camp, but Tyrone is also bigger and has more practice under his belt. He rather rudely reminds her that he plays on a basketball league. Fortunately, LaDonna doesn’t let a scraped knee or her nerves get the best of her and she handily wins the match.

This was such a fun read with lots to love. LaDonna dresses girly with leggings, a skirt, and a lot of pink, but she loves sports. She’s all confidence and swagger on the outside, but inside she’s afraid she won’t be able to take Tyrone’s title as family hoops star. Biddle clearly has a good read on kids and I love that the text and illustrations don’t paint LaDonna as anything more than a kid. So many times we see girls who like sports represented with boy clothes and body language and an all consuming confidence. Grandma calls her a tomboy at one point, but in reality LaDonna didn’t stick out from the group of kids in the family.

I also love that her whole family is clearly waiting for this rematch to happen. They all stare when Tyrone shuffles in off the basketball court to the backyard where LaDonna is jumping rope with a gaggle of other cousins. They all scowl as Tyrone tries to call a foul on LaDonna and won’t let him get away with it. And they all cheer as Tyrone meets his match. I imagine the adults of the family talking over the phone about this rematch, wondering if it will happen, who will initiate it, and speculating on who will win. I also imagine all the kids listening in on these conversations and wondering too about it. So when it comes time for the highly anticipated game, everyone is all ears and eyes. Her cousin Veronica quickly steps up to watch LaDonna’s pet frog for her during the match.

The illustrations are bright and colorful and cute. The cartoony style lends itself perfectly to such a light and funny family story. LaDonna’s family is shown to be primarily African American, but there are a few white folks in it too. Grandma lives in a clean, suburban neighborhood and it’s good to see a middle class African American family represented in kidlit. It shouldn’t be such a rarity, but it is.

The book would be great in a sports themed storytime as well as in classrooms with sports fans. Even better, the books shows that girls can enjoy and be good at basketball and all kids will benefit from being exposed to that narrative. In terms of ages, I would say first through third grade, but the lack of both racial and sporty girl representation might push this up into fourth grade. Kindergarten ages would probably be fine, especially if you learn the song that goes along with it (see below).

One last thing to add, I happen to know the author of this book through my last library and she told me she would be reading her book at a local Barnes and Noble. I took my daughter to hear the reading and get a copy signed. Not only were there cookies, stickers, coloring sheets and pencils, but Biddle has also written a little song that her husband plays on the ukulele while the two sing it during the read aloud. It was charming to say the least. And also catchy. Looking at the picture I used in this post, it seems that you can now get copies of the song to learn. 🙂

It is also worth noting that this book is available from the publisher with a special dyslexic font. I think this is both fascinating and wonderful. The story is high interest and the font can help readers who normally struggle.

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